Forget About Tiger Mothering, Try Inspirational Parenting

One of the most memorable lines in last week’s Academy Awards is Tom Hooper’s: “The moral of the story is: Listen to your mother.”

What more satisfaction can a mom get than to hear her son utter these words in front of a billion viewers worldwide.

Here’s the excerpt of his speech leading to this final conclusion:

“My mum was invited to a fringe theater play-reading of an unproduced, unrehearsed play called The King’s Speech in 2007She came home, rang me up and said, ‘Tom, I think I found your next film.’

I followed The New York Times reporter/blogger Melena Ryzik’s The Carpetbagger on Twitter through the Awards Season. Of all the Oscar interview write-ups I’ve read, and there are numerous, Ryzik’s “A Chat With The Mother Who Knows Best” has left the most lasting impression on me. And it was in that article that I found these two words, “inspirational parenting”. They were nothing short of an epiphany for me, striking a chord instantly.

Photo Credit: Matt Sayles/Associated Press

Ryzik talked to “The King’s Speech” director Tom Hooper’s mother after her son’s Oscar win, calling her “an exemplar of inspirational parenting”. Meredith Hooper is an academic and author of over 60 fiction and non-fiction works for children. Here are some excerpts from Ryzik’s article:

Did she realize she’d caused worldwide guilt among children for not listening to their mothers?

“I did not!” Ms. Hooper protested. “I didn’t say it. My advice is exactly the opposite — that we should all listen to our children.”

Now isn’t that the kind of talk that can make Amy Chua cringe? The kind of parenting style that prompted her to write about her own school of tough love parenting in her memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, now 7 weeks so far on the NYT Bestsellers List. It’s all that debate about teacher-fronted or child-centred learning all over again.

I’ve left comments on others’ blogs about my view of this current hot topic of the “Tiger Mom”, but have not posted about it here on Ripple Effects. The main reason is that I have not read the book, so I should not say too much when I haven’t heard all that Amy Chua has to say, albeit I can understand her perspective since I share similar ethnic and cultural roots.

Nevertheless, I’d rather write about ‘inspirational parenting’. It just sounds… more uplifting. Just savor the two words… aren’t they sublime? I think I just might adopt the first word as a personal axiom, ‘inspirational’ anything… in speaking, thinking, writing, being… mmm, something to aspire to.

Ok, back to “The King’s Speech”. After seeing the play, Meredith Hooper saw a great potential for a film in this story so full of human interest, irony and humor. As an Australian herself, she was bemused by Logue’s task to teach an English royal to speak:

Logue came as an Australian, and taught the king to speak. How incredible! Because we colonials — it’s assumed that the English would teach us how to speak. So I loved this reversal of roles, that this Australian would arrive in England with his democratic attitude, and no assumptions about class and society and status, all of which I’ve experienced.

Now this just might work for parenting as well. A practice of role reversal could bring about more empathy for both parents and children. Only when we listen and try to understand can we begin to deepen a relationship. I know, only as a therapy session, for kids would be more than willing to take back their role after momentary reversal. Who would want a more arduous job than they need to?

A story, a film, real life, it all boils down to…

So here it was, this simple need to communicate, in a play or in a film. Brilliant! Because it’s all about communicating, every piece of dramatic writing is all about communicating, and this was about someone who couldn’t.”

It’s interesting that Tom did not take up his mother’s enthusiasm right away. Convinced of the latent power in the story, Meredith explained to her son how the elements of effective storytelling fall naturally in place. They shared ideas. It was five months later that the initial notion began to take shape as a film project.

I must add too that the inspirational parenting ends where the creative spark ignites. A wise mother knows when to stop and allow the seed to grow into a life of its own. That’s what Meredith Hooper did… and the rest is Oscar history.


Click Here to read Melena Ryzik’s NYT article “A Chat With The Mother Who Knows Best”.

Related Posts on Ripple Effects:

Oscar Winners 2011

The King’s Speech (2010): Movie Review

The King’s Speech: Fact And Fiction

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If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Creator of Ripple Effects, bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

18 thoughts on “Forget About Tiger Mothering, Try Inspirational Parenting”

  1. Oh, to be a mother as wise as Meredith Hooper! I loved that moment of the Oscars too.
    I think most parents of our generation have tried to listen to their children (at least some of the time), Arti, but only the children know for certain whether they were actually heard…


    Knowing how to listen is important, knowing what to do after that is equally crucial. I’m afraid often I may have heard, but may not know how to respond in a positive and beneficial way. But definitely, listening is a good first step. Also, I find that our listening skills and response need to be flexible and adjustable according to our children’s different stages of life. Lots for us to learn as parents, isn’t it?



  2. Oh, I need to visit there right now, read that article. I loved that speech — I thought it so perfect and would love to know more.

    I’ve hesitated weighing in on the tiger mom deal, simply because, like you, I haven’t read the book (and frankly, the stack is high enough, I don’t particularly want to add it.) That said, it’s a tough call trying to guide without overtaking, letting them go to make their own mistakes, and trying to channel what could be into what is — knowing full well that what’s good for the goose isn’t always good for the gander. (Dealing with a 25-year-old who is trying to find his way through the stars in his eyes and the cold world of reality is a challenge.)

    Much of the credit goes to Meredith Hooper for presenting the option, an inspiration, a choice. But Tom Hooper had to be wise enough and visionary enough to not only pick up on the idea but to take it to the next level, with all that involved. Visioning, casting, bringing the story to life so eloquently and beautifully. He had to listen and hear. Looks like everyone did their job well in this one! And we’re the ones who reap the benefits.


    1. jeanie,

      Your comment leads me to think of the notion of the golden mean. It’s a fine balance between involved guidance and letting go, isn’t it? Ryzik’s usage of the term ‘inspirational parenting’ may just well be a spur of the moment kind of description, nevertheless, I feel it’s such an apt principle. It’s a vague concept though, which leaves room for parents to think of ways that best suit their style and needs. I can understand your challenge, since my college-age son is just a few years younger than your 25 yr-old. Seems like it’s harder to seek the golden mean as they grow older, definitely not as simple as when they are merely children.



  3. Actually, when I read the NY Times piece on Amy Chua, I found much to admire. It’s easy to unbalance things, and at least where I live, the atmosphere is soggy with a strange “everyone and everything is equal” nonsense. Beyond that, there are so many parents terrified of placing any restrictions on their children even some of the kids remark on it.

    That said, there’s no questioning the important role Meredith Hooper played in the development of The King’s Speech, or the value of her reflections on parenting. It seems to me that problems come when either parents or children confuse “Listen to your mother” with “Do what your mother says”!

    Listening is much, much harder than unthinking obedience or compulsive enforcement of rules. I suppose that’s why we have to keep reminding ourselves to listen to one another!

    And of course, as I tweeted to you at the end of the Oscar’s, sometimes the child has to be wise enough to stop listening to a parent, when the parent’s advice isn’t sound. Sometimes we have to add a few years before we can do that with confidence!


    1. Linda,

      You’re right in pointing out Amy Chua’s parenting style could well be an apt reaction towards the generally more lenient way of Western parenting and schooling. I haven’t read the book, but my cousin in the US, a first generation Chinese-American immigrant who has two adult children herself, has read it and found a lot in the book with which she could identify. She felt that Chua’s self-deprecating descriptions project an image that’s not as fierce a tiger as the news articles had depicted.

      Nevertheless, if I were to choose between being a tiger and being an inspiration, I would definitely, hands down, choose the latter. And yes, it takes wisdom to know when to inspire and when to stop. Meredith Hooper apparently knows it well. It goes without saying that such understanding could only come from a close relationship between parent and child.



      1. And you know, it just occurs to me – everything I remember reading about Amy Chua has focused entirely on her – either horrified rejection or a too-easy acceptance that “this” would solve all our problems with our kids.

        What I haven’t read about and what would be very interesting is the response of the children. In short – are there children who experience the “tiger moms” who also are inspired to find their own path to creativity.

        It’s an especially interesting subject to me because I had neither the tiger mom nor the inspirational mom – I was of the generation who had the “let’s fit in with society” mom. It was a parenting style that left me feeling smothered and rebellious – particularly after I was forced to find a major other than English because I couldn’t make a living with it!


        1. Linda,

          Her two daughters had been interviewed too. I’ve received an email from someone who had read the book, herself being a first generation Chinese-American immigrant mother. This is what she said about the Tiger Mom’s daughters: “…they’re healthy, well-adjusted, and ever grateful to their Tiger Mom for doing what she did, and the bonds between them and Tiger Mom have never been stronger.” You see, the method apparently worked for her, that’s why she wrote the book.


  4. Such a topic: tiger mothering or inspirational mothering. Perhaps for Asian children the former works; they are, afterall, such achievers in my classroom. Does this work for every child? No. American mothers can be criticized for being too weak, and I think this has a point as well: now I see mothers doing everything for their children. Enabling to a fare-thee-well.

    I want to be an inspirational mother. I think that’s the best kind: not too harsh, not too lenient, but encouraging. Instilling hope. Much like our Father does for us, right?


    1. Bellezza,

      This is precisely the point Amy Chua is making, from the articles and her interviews, that it works for her, and maybe other Chinese parents as well. But the underlying issue is, should academic, or musical, or sports, or whatever achievements be the measure of ‘success’? Ultimately, the question is: “What’s the goal of parenting?’

      I appreciate your words: “encouraging, instilling hope. Much like our Father does for us”. They imply something that’s not material or tangible like marks and trophies, but more to do with character, or the intangible elements such as faith, hope, and love, or beauty, creativity, and imagination. I feel that’s the kind of fruits that can come about more readily from inspirational parenting than disciplinary tigering.


  5. Well you know my thoughts on the Tiger Mother, Arti! I am far more behind the notion of the inspirational parent. Although, to be absolutely honest, I’m most interested in the ordinary, good enough parent. No one has to be miraculous or marvellous – it’s reaching beyond ourselves to try to be something we are not that gives me cold chills, when what we are already, and the inherent possibilities in our real situation are where the real work and pleasure of life can be found. What I like about this mother is that she became enthusiastic about a story and communicated that enthusiasm to her son. She didn’t say, go and make an Oscar-winning film and make me proud, which would have been a burden to him. She said, I just love this – don’t you find it interesting too?


    1. litlove,

      You’re absolutely right… as mothers, sometimes it’s hard not to compare, and that could be the slough of despondence for us. You’ve reminded us that there’s nobility in just doing our ordinary duty of ‘mothering’ to the best of our ability and insight, and that’s already a job well done.

      Even for Meredith Hooper too, I mean, I don’t think she had the slightest notion that said: “ok, I’m going to inspire and lead my son to an Oscar win.” I’m sure she was just doing something that naturally came to her, sharing a powerful story with Tom and let the seed sprout to fruition under his creative vision. From reading all the interviews and articles about TKS cast, screenwriter, and director, it’s their understated demeanor that I feel they’re so deserving of acclamation.


  6. These are beautiful connections, Arti! I, too, love this idea of inspirational parenting. What strikes me so profoundly in your post is that each of these people was inspired! Including Meredith Hooper. It does not matter where inspiration comes from, but we have to be open to it. And to help our children open to it is one of the great privileges of life! I feel that the Tiger mom does the opposite, closing her children to all but what she deems to be the important stuff. It makes me shudder.

    Both of our children make their living in the world of art. I am very proud, I must say, that we quieted our little (they were little) fears that they would make a living in design and music, and that they have gone on to pursue what they are passionate about.


    1. Ruth,

      You’ve pointed out the fact that all of them had been inspired. So true. As I wrote in my review of the movie TKS, it all started with David Seidler’s traumatic trans-Atlantic voyage to escape from England that left him stuttering throughout childhood when he got to America. From his listening to KGVI’s wartime speeches on the radio, he was inspired, of course, not aware that the King himself was first inspired by speech therapist Lionel Logue. It’s amazing, isn’t it, the inspirational connectedness. Give us a little boost, doesn’t it, to know that what we do or say or write could spark a significant chain of ripple effects. 😉

      Your children are blessed to be able to pursue freely the arts. I’m sure they have been endowed both by nature and nurture.


  7. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. And I really enjoy reading all the responses as well. Really get me thinking about my own parenting style. Indeed, Arti, what an interesting topic !! I think every parent would agree that parenting is the most challenging, and yet could be the most rewarding “job” in our lives. No parent knows exactly what to do in every parenting situation but I believe God provides us wisdom to deal with the situations as they come. Of course, all of us have made mistakes. But I bellieve, children are resilient. In my line of work, I have seen some dysfunctional families where some kids can still grow up to be decent citizens with regular jobs. The ones whose parents genuinely try to do the right things and truly love their kids, even though they may not know how. A friend of mine who had been a counsellor for a number of years once said to me, ” no matter what difficult times her clients had to face, or how “messed up” their lives have been, the ones who have felt loved and cared by their parents, are often the ones who can turn their lives around and have the determination to do the right things ultimately.
    I, too, continue to strive to be a better person and a better mom every day. It is a process and not an end stage, I think.


    Thank you for an inspiring comment. Your counsellor friend’s insight is particularly uplifting. Yes, there may be all sorts of parenting methods and styles, but it all boils down to the essence of authentic love and care for our children… no matter what stage of life they are in. I look forward to more of your sharing in my future posts. 😉



  8. Reading your blog and the links you generously offer widens my world, thank you. I particularly liked Jeanie’s comments above. I read the excerpt from Amy Chua’s book, and also the Wall Street Journal review. I think the real debate may center on what we consider “successful outcomes” in our children. Winning medals for excellence? having the ability for critical thought? compassion? social conscience? responsibility? humility? leadership? confident use of their gifts?

    When I considered “inspirational parenting,” I thought of two writers who’d influenced me. I had plenty of time to apply some helpful principles suggested in Maxine Hancock’s book, Raising Confident Creative Children, because I read it when I was pregnant with my son. I credit Maria Montessori’s approach to child development which encouraged me to help my son to use & develop his own senses as he grew in his experience of the world. Consider the number of hours devoted to the mothering task on a world scale. Such a significant investment, unfortunately is easily taken for granted, but merits discussion & reflection. Somehow simply receiving a Mother’s Day card almost trivializes our effort. But in my experience mothering has been about daily selfless giving, not about acknowledgement.


    1. Micheline,

      I often feel that the comments section is the purpose of the post. The thoughts and sharing stirred up can be so enriching and inspiring. Thank you for sharing your experiences. I’d appreciate the wisdom in your concluding statement: “…mothering has been about daily selfless giving, not about acknowledgement.” Indeed, “simply receiving a Mother’s Day card almost trivializes our effort.” So true, and yet, do we mind? I’d gladly receive one. 😉



  9. Arti, I could swear I’ve written blog comments on others’ posts and yet, they do not appear. Or, am I dreaming of fabulous responses? I dunno. I can tell you this…after a day at work, I’m likely to come home and circle the laptop without opening it because I usually suffer from sit-at-PC-and-work fatigue. It’s a new syndrome I’m inventing. The unfortunate side effect is that the people you really DO want to communicate with don’t hear from you because you just don’t want to turn on the laptop.

    Results: by weekend, I’m missing everyone and voyaging thru BlogWorld to see what’s going on and all that I’ve missed.
    Short version: seems like I haven’t been here in ages. Could have sworn I had something ennervating to say about the Excellent Mr. Firth…but perhaps tweeted enough on that already! (and where am I on Twitter? Just haven’t had a chance to be there much at all -honestly!)

    So, I finished ROOM (the book); kinda did a “speed read” on it. Got it done. Painful book, yet oddly optimistic though not without several false steps, I’d guess. Glad I didn’t buy it, overall and will be returning it to the library tomorrow. Still, she started out with a unique rhythm and “language,” the author did and deserves to be prized for it.

    As for Meredith Hopper, she’s kind of like the new “mom” mentor. Couldn’t agree with her more when she says it’s the parents who learn from the children. She does, however, make me want to keep my head down and keep working away at this writing thing. (why? it’s about love.)

    And here’s to all the magnificent children of the world, because they ALL are; some are just “heard” far more than others.

    OK, back to the baking a cake!!!!


    Guess I know how you feel… life has been so hectic for me that I haven’t been posting for over a week. Thanks for dropping in despite the syndrome that plagues us urbanites. Anyway, I found Twitter is an easier way of connecting… 140 characters is much easier to churn out that a whole new post.



    1. “I found Twitter is an easier way of connecting…140 characters is much easier to churn out than a whole new post.”

      No doubt. But you know…. the more I use Twitter, the less satisfying I find it. Very strange. It is good for information – used it a lot during the recent wildfires in Oklahoma, and obviously it’s been very helpful in Japan’s situation. But otherwise, I’m still quite ambivalent.


      Maybe I should re-phrase… Twitter for me is a good way to get news feeds and info. As for communication with friends, I admit I don’t have many who use Twitter frequently enough to make personal contacts in this way.



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